Themes and Characters

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In each of the very different locales where the story is set, Henry creates colorful characters who realistically possess a mixture of virtues and faults. Even Agba, who seldom makes a moral false step in the first part of the story, grows impatient toward the end and even becomes rebellious, as when he lets Sham out of the stall to fight Hobgoblin, the Earl's favorite horse, and to mate with the beautiful mare, Lady Roxanna.

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The various characters whom Agba encounters along the way range from very evil and foolish to kind and intelligent. Mr. Williams, who at one point shelters Agba and Sham, is a kind person but not a good rider; his manner, more than any intended evil, irritates Sham. The Sultan, a "fierce and bloodthirsty ruler" from whose presence no horseboy had ever returned, loses stature in the reader's mind when Agba visits him; he looks and sounds like a camel to the boy, and his vanity and imperiousness also make him appear wholly undignified. Yet he values his horses. Other rulers are portrayed according to their merits rather than their apparent status in the world.

The Earl of Godolphin is a particularly successful character. He at first seems to be a savior, and his estate a kind of heaven, but he has definite faults. He trusts too much in the opinions of his head groom, Titus Twickerham, and devalues Sham in relation to his larger horse, Hobgoblin. The Earl waits until Sham's colt begins racing and beating colts sired by Hobgoblin before granting Sham and Agba their rightful place on his estate. His ineptness also shows in his poor management of money.

Several other characters are also skillfully drawn: the chief cook who sells Sham to the evil and selfish Carter; the Quaker, Jethro Coke, a retired merchant who is genuinely concerned about the boy and the horse; the very kind tart-baking Mrs. Cockburn; Coke's sonin- law, the bungling and spiteful Benjamin Biggie; and even the guards in Newgate Jail have distinct personalities that make them memorable.

The horses, too, have personalities. Sham is a thriving and playful colt, a stoic survivor of hardships, a young stallion fighting for his mate, and a faithful and affectionate companion to Agba. In contrast is the pampered, overfed Hobgoblin, doted on by Titus Twickerham, the know-it-all groom.

These plausibly drawn characters convey Henry's concern with values. Sensitivity, the ability to observe life accurately, and faithfulness are moral standards upheld by Agba and Sham's progress through the story, which is also the story of Agba's growth to adulthood. Agba never forgets the Sultan's charge— however personally repulsive the Sultan is—to see Sham through life; he sticks to his purpose. By contrasting Agba and Sham's success with Titus Twickerham and Hobgoblin's failure, Henry shows that perseverance is more important than pedigree, that an individual's determination to succeed is more important than the circumstances of his or her birth.

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